Gijs M. de Vries
Council of the European Union
In an earlier letter I gave four general justifications for terrorist campaigns in Europe, to force changes in policy on specific issues...
I mentioned European spatial planning and transport issues, which are not usually seen as terrorism-related. In this letter I will give more detail, on vehicle particulate pollution as a justification for terrorism in Europe, especially within the EU. It meets three of the criteria. The problem is very large in scale, affecting perhaps 200 million people in urban areas. The problem results from the democratic decisions of European governments, to promote roads and road traffic, since the 1920's. Effective measures to reduce road vehicle pollution are however unacceptable for the electorate, and so the issue can not be resolved in a democracy.
The relevant EU policy is the 'air quality directive', Council Directive 1999/30/EC. Its limit values for particulate matter came into force at the start of 2005: by March the annual limits had been exceeded in some German cities. The emergency measures which were then required, brought the issue to public and media attention.
To begin with the last justification: the environmental group Milieudefensie has recently listed policy changes which would be necessary to reduce vehicle particulate pollution in the Netherlands. Individually, and certainly together, these policies have no chance of approval. At national level, they would mean no expansion of ports, airports and the motorway network. The expansion of Schiphol airport has been a consensus policy for all governments since the 1950's: a policy reversal seems politically impossible. Specifically, a planned terminal extension for low-cost carriers would be abandoned - while other airports compete to attract them. Expansion of the Port of Rotterdam, by new land reclamation in sea (Second Maasvlakte project), would also cease. Again, this contradicts a policy consensus among Dutch political parties, since before the Second World War. In Amsterdam, the 'second Coen tunnel' project would be abandoned: it is considered essential by business lobbies (and Schiphol airport). It is also an emotional issue for commuters from north of the city, because of the congestion and tailbacks approaching the existing tunnel. In the south of the country, the expansion of Maastricht-Aachen airport would be blocked: again this is a litmus test for regional lobbies, which see expansion as an absolute precondition for regional development.
Restrictions on car use and road infrastructure are already an emotional issue in the Netherlands, and sometimes result in death threats to those who propose them. There is no way such measures could secure a democratic majority, in the Dutch political system. It is a social and historical reality, that the automobile generated an entirely new 'car culture', which has become integrated in the value systems of western societies. A democratic system, by definition, reflects such underlying values. A democratic state can take therefore no measures which fundamentally offend against them.
Two examples illustrate how vehicle particulate pollution results from deliberate policy to increase road traffic, related to these underlying values. The cases are from the Netherlands, but similar examples can be found in other EU countries. Pro-road policies are quasi-ideological, and linked to a sense that they are more 'modern', or otherwise desirable. This policy background, dating from before the Second World war, is also responsible for the continual erosion of the share of goods and passenger traffic carried by rail - the modal split. (I will write again on the issue of modal split, with more examples of pro-road decisions and policy).
The central wholesale market in Amsterdam was opened in 1934: at the time it was on the edge of the city. It was, and is, municipally owned and managed. The market was originally designed for rail and water access: at the time transport of fruit and vegetables in boats was normal. East and west of the market were inland-shipping canals, with small harbours. In the last decades, the harbours were deliberately filled in, buildings were extended right to the quayside, and the rail connection to the Amsterdam-Haarlem line was closed. The only access is now by road, mostly diesel trucks, and the link to the ring motorway is a residential street with shops. As a result this street (Jan van Galenstraat) has the worst particulate pollution in Amsterdam, exceeding the EU norms. There is no accident in this: although the road carries other traffic, the road-only policy for the market was a deliberate decision of democratically elected city governments, and they would take the same decision again. In fact, the city of Amsterdam has re-confirmed the policy: it might relocate traffic to a second entrance (via another residential street), but it refuses to limit the freight traffic, even though it knows that the health of residents is being damaged. That accurately reflects the pro-road values of the political parties: democracy both caused the problem, and prevents its solution.
A similar decision to deliberately transfer freight to road traffic was taken in the 1990's, with less localised effects, and acting indirectly through market forces. The Netherlands postal service, a ministry-status PTT, was privatised in stages. It was allowed to determine its own transport policy, in fact it was obliged to act on commercial grounds. Predictably, it then decided to abandon the rail-linked sorting offices which sorted most mail, and switch to road transport. The specially-built postal trains, which moved the mail in the evening and night, were also abandoned. Additionally, the company moved several sorting facilities to new peripheral locations, without rail access but close to motorways: the old sites were redeveloped. All inter-regional post is now moved by road, increasing particulate emissions. The relocation has also increased other road traffic, since much business post is brought by road, to the suburban sorting facilities. (All costs, typically, were externalised). This issue, and the environmental consequences, were clearly known to the government: they were raised in parliament. The democratically elected government explicitly refused to intervene in the decisions of a private entreprise. Again this shows that particulate pollution is not an unfortunate side-effect, but often a deliberate decision, made in full knowledge. The issue cannot be resolved within the democratic process, because it is inherent to the democratic process. The present EU anti-terrorism coordinator should understand this, because he was a member of that government, the social-liberal coalition under Wim Kok.
The present EU terrorism definition is clearly based on the assumption, that the democratic process has a a sacralising effect. It implies that every outcome of the democratic process is morally right, and that it is an absolute wrong to oppose it from outside the democratic process. That is nonsense, ethically speaking. It is nonsense historically, because there are enough examples of absurd, oppressive, and racist democratic decisions. It is also extremely inconsistent, because the EU has supported three anti-government insurrections in the last few years, including the armed seizure of the Georgian Parliament during a Presidential address.
So none of you, the addressees of this letter, have any moral superiority on the issue of democracy and political violence. It is not moral, to demand that people accept particulate pollution, and sacrifice their health, in the interests of democracy. Do you have any other solution to the problem of democratically approved and promoted pollution?
Gijs de Vries, European Union anti-terrorism coordinator
DAC Peter Clarke, head of counter-terrorism, Metropolitan Police, London
Max-Peter Ratzel, Director, Europol
M. van Erve, national anti-terrorism prosecutor, Netherlands
W. van Gemert, Netherlands Security Service AIVD
Josep Borrell Fontelles, President of the European Parliament
Lorenzo Salazar, cabinet of Franco Frattini, European Commission